Drilling commissioner questions DENR's pass on water grant

Posted September 26, 2013

— The chairman of the commission establishing rules for natural gas drilling in North Carolina said Thursday that he wants more details from state environmental regulators about why they turned down a federal grant to test water supplies before drilling begins.

The Division of Water Resources recently rejected a $222,595 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for water quality monitoring in areas seen as candidates for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a method of natural gas drilling that has spurred environmental concerns in other states.

Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, spokesman for the state chapter of the Sierra Club, said Thursday that North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast to turn down such a grant.

"It just doesn't make sense for most people in general," Chicurel-Bayard said. "Here was additional resources to help a cash-starved agency do work that it's planning to do. One would think that the agency would welcome that."

DENR's state funding has been cut by about 40 percent in the past two years, and the Division of Water Resources is eliminating about 70 positions as it reorganizes after lawmakers trimmed its budget this year by about $2 million.

Water quality is a concern with relation to fracking because critics say methane and other chemicals used in, or released by, the process could seep into local water supplies. The federal grant would have helped establish a baseline for those chemicals in local groundwater so that claims of future contamination could be properly evaluated.

Division Director Tom Reeder said earlier this week that his staff could conduct the tests more efficiently than the federal grant would have allowed.

Creedmoor passes fracking ban, Cary could follow Gas drilling companies pay for water testing in NC

"I have not done a thing that would negatively impact the environment of North Carolina," Reeder told WRAL News on Monday.

He canceled a follow-up interview scheduled for Thursday.

"We were obviously intrigued by the report that the agency has decided not to pursue that grant, but in and of itself, that doesn't mean anything," said Jim Womack, chairman of the Mining and Energy Commission.

The commission is drafting regulations for fracking, which must be approved by lawmakers before any permits can be issued. Officials said they expect all rules to be in place by 2015.

Commission member Vik Rao backed up Reeder's position that DENR can handle the testing, adding that the panel plans to require drilling companies to pay for the water testing.

"We're very comfortable that that is taken care of, and I don't see the need for the federal government to pay for anything or the state to pay for it," Rao said.

EPA spokeswoman Davina Marraccini said the grant money has now been committed to other projects, so it's too late for the state to reconsider.

"Would that grant have even fit with what we're requiring oil and gas companies to do, or would It be redundant or unnecessary?" Womack asked. "I have some questions about the grant itself, and I'm sure we're going to get a thorough update on it (Friday)."

Chicurel-Bayard said the money could have paid for additional testers. With more work and fewer resources at DENR, he said, something's got to give.

"The real question is, what's not going to be done because folks are doing this work?" he said. "There's also a question of, whoever at DENR's doing this work now, do they have the resources? Do they have the equipment necessary to do the proper type of testing?"


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  • marathonk Oct 3, 2013

    The scuttlebutt is that Reeder turned down the grant without notifying his superiors and now Skvarla is being forced to stand up for him.

    The citizens and the environment will end up being the big losers after this administration is gone.

  • cwmllc1952 Sep 30, 2013

    Drilling money put our Governor in and all the right people are being placed. If there are test wells around the first drilling site Fracking will not last a year. Politicians should be held accountable for their actions.

  • cruzinlong Sep 30, 2013

    I certainly would not trust water testing done by the drilling companies...if you want a reliable one to fall back on best to get it done yourself and it won't be cheap.
    I see water testing facilities and lawyers making a lot of $$$ in the days ahead per fracking.
    I'm still not clear on the title of this article, chairman Womack has been a " drill baby drill" advocate from the get go and is all for anything that will make it happen here.

  • wjblackley Sep 28, 2013

    So now the fracking companies will paying for the testing?

    "Commission member Vik Rao backed up Reeder's position that DENR can handle the testing, adding that the panel plans to require drilling companies to pay for the water testing."

    "He who pays the fiddler calls the tune."

    I think we can predict what the results of those tests will be . . . surprise . . . no contamination, very safe, everything okay, nothing to worry about, companies all complying 100%, don't worry citizens, the fracking industry wouldn't do anything to hurt your health.

    Good Luck, Bill Blackley, MD

  • lovelarvae Sep 27, 2013

    "Tom Reeder says there still will be testing at fracking sites, because N.C. law requires it. But the law, which was drawn up by a Republican-led legislature, doesn’t require the thoroughness of testing that the EPA grant would have provided."

    That's the best explanation I've heard yet of why the money would be turned down. Obviously, for all the wrong reasons.

  • Unbroken Sep 27, 2013

    "Free money always has strings attached. The true cost of this money is not something that would ever be reported on this site. The mentality that all free money must be accepted has permeated our thinking to the point that entitlement is a way of life.

    Oh good gravy, here we go again. Yeah, it isn't "free" in the sense that they can all go out and buy a big lunch on it.

    Have you ever worked on, for or under a federal grant before? I have. Are there expectations as far as what you will use the money for and performance measures? Absolutely, why would there not be?

    But to somehow imply that by taking this grant, we all have to have "666" imprinted on our scalp is ludicrous at best.

    And to your point about this site "never reporting the true cost," the same applies to Reeder. If there is some sort of "strings attached," then tell us what they are! To simply say, "we can do it ourselves" and cancel follow-up interviews is disingenuous.

  • Wirklich Sep 27, 2013

    Tom Reeder says there still will be testing at fracking sites, because N.C. law requires it. But the law, which was drawn up by a Republican-led legislature, doesn’t require the thoroughness of testing that the EPA grant would have provided. In fact, the law even lets the testing be done by the companies that will perform the fracking. That’s not the kind of comfort we have in mind.

    Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/09/25/4342479/a-troubling-first-for-ncs-environment.html#storylink=cpy

  • davisgw Sep 27, 2013

    DENR is trying to head off any public scrutiny of fracking. Just protecting self interest and avoiding accountability.

  • cruzinlong Sep 27, 2013

    lizardstail, yes it is. Here's part of his Bio at DENR :
    "•1974 – 2008, various positions including Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Halliburton Company."
    Note, he was there during the loophole days also.
    He is also the one that thinks it would be a good idea to irrigate crops and water sheep with waste frack water.

    see below:

  • lizardstail Sep 26, 2013

    Isn't this the same Vik Rao that worked for Haliburton?

    Good or bad idea to let the drilling companies control the Water quality testing?